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This one's the big dance for Manning

February 04, 2007|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

MIAMI — He has been here before.

When Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning takes the field today for Super Bowl XLI against the Chicago Bears, he will be treading on familiar ground. True, it's his first Super Bowl, but it's not the first time his every step has been studied, questioned, critiqued and recorded for posterity.

The first time was more about Lambada tremors than Lombardi trophies.

"I signed up for this class in eighth grade called Musical Theater with the goal of getting out of computers," Manning recalled last week. "A week into the class they told me that I had to be in the school play, and I said that I didn't want to do that."

He wasn't given the option; he was in the play. It was called "The Boy Friend," and Manning, cast as "Miguel," had to wear a frilly red tuxedo shirt and yellow cummerbund. Worse, he had to dance the tango with Lola.

"I had to do it on Friday in front of the whole school, which wasn't that much pressure," he said. "But they said that you had to do it again Saturday night in front of the families, which meant in front of my two brothers, Eli and Cooper.... Now that's pressure."

But -- cha, cha, cha -- he survived.

"I did it," he said. "I studied that, and I went full speed on that tango. There is a video. Don't look for it. It's deep in the Manning vault, I can assure you."

There's no stashing away today's game at Dolphin Stadium. Two hundred and thirty-four countries and territories and a national television audience of 140 million will be watching as the Colts and Bears square off in a Super Bowl rich with story lines.

The game is a showcase for Manning, the league's most prolific quarterback in regular-season games but an underachiever in lose-and-you're-out scenarios. Coming into this postseason, the Colts had won just three of their last 11 playoff games. Already, they have matched that victory total, toppling Kansas City, Baltimore and New England to get here.

It's also a showcase for the Bears, making only their second appearance in the Super Bowl and first since 1986, when Walter Payton & Co. shuffled their way into NFL history. A stifling defense was the hallmark of that team. But the latest Midway Monsters haven't shown the claws they had earlier this season. After holding their first 10 opponents to fewer than 300 yards, they have allowed eight consecutive teams to surpass that mark -- including Seattle and New Orleans in the playoffs.

Asked how his team compares to the legendary Bears, linebacker Brian Urlacher said: "We don't compare. They won a Super Bowl. We have a chance to do that right now, but look at their numbers -- they were amazing. They did everything. They took it away, they sacked the quarterback, and they intercepted passes. They were dominant. There have been games where we were dominant this year, but they were dominant all season."

Really, defense isn't the top concern for Chicago. It's quarterback Rex Grossman, who has been wildly unpredictable with performances ranging from near-flawless to comically feeble. He had seven games this season with a passer rating higher than 100.0, second only to St. Louis' Marc Bulger, but also had a league-high five games with ratings lower than 37.0. That included a 10.6 against Arizona, a 1.3 against Minnesota, and a 0.0 against Green Bay in the meaningless regular-season finale.

"I know the pressure I'm feeling on myself," Grossman said. "I want to win this Super Bowl for my teammates and Coach [Lovie] Smith and the fans and for myself. I feel a lot of pressure in that. I'm sure it's the same way for Peyton."

Grossman grew up in Bloomington, Ind., less than an hour south of Indianapolis, and his parents are still Colts season-ticket holders. Their hearts, of course, are with the Bears.

More torn, perhaps, is the father of Colts receiver Aaron Moorehead. Emery Moorehead was a starting tight end for the '85-86 Bears. The Mooreheads are the ninth father-son combination to reach the Super Bowl. Aaron Moorehead is the second to play against his father's old team.

He said his dad's allegiances are divided "about 60-40" in favor of the Colts.

"He's not necessarily 100% or anything," Aaron Moorehead said. "He's kind of on the fence right now. He wants me to do well. He wants us to win. He's been a Bears fan his whole life. He loves the fans in Chicago. He feels like the fans in Chicago definitely deserve another championship."

Whichever team walks away victorious, history will be made. Chicago's Smith and Indianapolis' Tony Dungy are the first African American coaches to reach the Super Bowl. The Colts also have the chance to become the first team that plays its home games in a domed stadium to win a Super Bowl outdoors.

"This is what you work for your whole life," Colts center Jeff Saturday said. "From Pee Wee league on, this is as big as it gets. It's the biggest stage you can be on, so it's a surreal moment.

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